Delaware Public Media

Historic Lenape church in Dover burns

Dec 31, 2018

The Cheswold Volunteer Fire Company responded to a fire at the Little Union United Methodist Church outside Dover this morning.



The Company reported one wall of the building collapsed. Three firefighters sustained minor injuries and were treated at Kent General Hospital. They are listed in good condition.

Historian with the Immanuel Union United Methodist Church in Cheswold Richard "Dickie" Durham told Delaware Public Media in May that Little Union was one of two historically Lenape churches in the area. Durham said it dated back to the 1850s and closed its doors in 1948. It was later used by another congregation.

Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware Chief Dennis Coker told Delaware Public Media in July that the Tribe hoped to eventually reacquire the church and convert it to a community meeting space and museum.

The interior of Little Union church after the fire Monday
Credit Courtesy of Cheswold resident RuthAnn Purchase


This goal was part of the Tribe's effort to remediate and reacquire the former site of the Lenape Fork Branch school across the road from the church.

The church is not owned by the Tribe, but sits adjacent to the half-acre plot which is the only land the Tribe owns. It is also adjacent to the Fork Branch cemetery, where the Lenape community's cultural mapping project is based.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the State Fire Marshal and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The state Fire Marshal estimates damage from the fire at $100,000.

According to county tax parcel data, the church was built in 1900. State Historic Preservation officials say records show a church on the property as early as 1868.


The Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware is one of two state-recognized Native American tribes in Delaware.